A trip back in time at Madrid’s Naval Museum

With more than 200 years of history behind it, the Naval Museum in Madrid has a collection of 10,500 rich and diverse artefacts, the fruit of Spain’s proud maritime tradition and history.

The origins of the museum go back to 1792 when it started as a scholarly project to add an educational element to the training of naval officers. The then ‘Museo de Marina’ (Museum of the Navy) in San Carlos in Cadiz began to acquire items which would go to make up the collection.

Nowadays the museum is an on-going project, open to the entire public, which in addition to maintaining, studying, displaying and increasing the collection, is involved in the dissemination and education of Spain’s maritime history.

Its main aims are the promotion of knowledge of Naval history; shipbuilding; navigation and related subjects; the history of maritime voyages and the journeys of discovery; sub-aquatic archaeology; as well as the intangible cultural heritage of sailing and sailors.

Inside the Museum the collection is divided amongst permanent and temporary collections. In the first three months of 2013 a total of 31,020 people visited the Museum, reflecting an increase in visitors that began in 2011.

A tour of its rooms, with model versions of the heroic ships of the past, astronomical and navigational instruments as well as maps used by distinguished mariners and a faithful recreation of the Captain’s cabin, becomes a trip back in time which any visitor will want to repeat.

In order to fully enjoy and understand the collection visitors should make sure they don’t miss what the Museum calls “The 10 Key Artefacts”, a collection of unique pieces, such as Juan de la Cosa’s “Carta Universal”, a map of the known world as of 1500, models of a Flemish galleon and the ship of the line the ‘Real Carlos’, Felipe II’s astronomical compendium and a painting of ‘The first tribute given to Christopher Columbus” by the natives in the Americas.

Other highlights are the 600 model hulls in the collection dedicated to ship building, which provide a history of the Spanish Navy, together with nearly 1,400 paintings and images of naval scenes, naval combat, views of ports and cities, various types of boats and vessels and portraits of some of history’s most important figures.

The visitor can also see more than 1,000 pieces that show the evolution of artillery and portable weapons as well as one of the most important collections in Spain of scientific and astronomical instruments used for navigation since the 15th century, made up of 660 pieces. The Museum also holds a number of Roman coins along with historical medals and honours.

The visit finishes with an exhibition of 260 flags and ensigns, which contains such curiosities as the only existing flag of Joseph-Napoleon Bonaparte. There is also an ethnographic collection.